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Materials & Future and Emerging Technologies

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The world's energy system is bound to change rather radically in the next decades. New, efficient and clean technologies will have to be introduced since the scale of what needs to be done is daunting. In this context, we need to encourage breakthroughs and radical ideas, since incremental progress in existing solutions may not be enough. To make real progress, we must create an environment in which high-risk, high reward research is encouraged.

Materials research is probably the most important element for the development of the necessary technologies needed to provide a clean, reliable supply of efficient energy. The aim is to push the limits of the future emerging technologies, at the same time encouraging the materials community to work together and share their findings. EC support under the current Framework Programme (FP7, 2007-2013) has been targeting research across a wide spectrum of novel materials for energy applications. This is done within Future Emerging Technologies scheme of the Energy theme in collaboration with the FP7 Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials & new production technologies.

The supported research is highly novel and ambitious. The research scheme is completely "bottom-up" and scientists are encouraged to think "out-of-the-box". Proposals are judged by looking at the potential impact of the new concepts, components and technologies to be developed. Novel multi-disciplinary ideas are of particular interest under FP7.

In order to foster highly creative research groups in the European Research Area, the Energy theme devotes between 10 - 15% of its annual budget to future emerging technology calls for proposals. For more information on current open topics in the area of FET or energy materials click here.

Examples of successful projects

ELCAT

The ELCAT project addresses two current difficulties of the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process in which synthetic gas is converted to a series of hydrocarbons and water: the catalyst is quickly deactivated and the reaction’s productivity is poor. The team is working with two experimental configurations. Built around a proton conduction membrane in which protons are generated by catalytic oxidation of hydrogen on the opposite side from the carbon dioxide, the first will be operated at temperatures of 50–150°C for good reaction productivity. The second configuration will be similar but have an oxygen-anion-conducting membrane instead. Catalysing the reaction in both configurations, metal nanoparticles stabilised within carbon nanotubes are expected to generate very high local pressures inside the nanotubes. This, the partners believe, is probably an essential ingredient in the production of the FT-like products already observed.

The longer-term outcomes could be considerable in several technological areas. Similarities between the first configuration and proton-exchange-membrane (PEM) fuel cells suggest the possibility of knock-on improvements in the electrodes of PEM fuel cells. Moreover, if knowledge gained from the second configuration turns out to be transferable to the related solidoxide fuel cell, the result might be capable, further down the line, of generating hydrogen from water in a single step.

The project was funded under the NEST adventure scheme of FP6 which can be considered the predecessor of the FET scheme in FP7. ELCAT runs for 3 years, its consortium consists of 4 members and receives an EU funding of almost EUR 900 000.

For more information please consult the project's website.

 

SOLAR-H2

SOLAR-H2 brings together 12 world-leading European laboratories to carry out integrated, basic research aimed at achieving renewable hydrogen (H2) production from environmentally safe resources. The idea is to develop novel routes for the production of a solar-fuel, in this case H2, from the very abundant, effectively inexhaustible resources, solar energy and water.

The project integrates two frontline research topics: artificial photosynthesis in man-made biomimetic systems, and photobiological H2 production in living organisms. H2 production by these methods on a relevant scale is still distant but has a vast potential and is of utmost importance for the future European economy. The scientific risk is high - the research is very demanding. Thus, the overall objective now, is to explore, integrate and provide the basic science necessary to develop these novel routes and advance them toward new horizons. The project also involves research aimed at demonstrating the concept of photobiological H2 production in photobioreactors.

This project is built upon the research carried out in the SOLAR-H project which was funded under FP6. SOLAR-H2 runs for four years and receives EU funding of almost EUR 4 million.